Waylon provided the soundtrack for both the dream and the reality of my American West. Robert E. Howard made me want to write; Waylon Jennings made me want to play music. I discovered so many great songwriters through Waylon’s music: Mickey Newberry, Kristofferson, Beth Nielsen Chapman. The first time I ever heard of Steve Earle was when I heard Waylon’s version of “The Devil’s Right Hand,” a couple of years before Mr. Earle got his break.
Waylon’s own songwriting is a little underappreciated. His “Belle of the Ball” is a beautiful extended metaphor for his fraught relationship with the music genre that both nurtured and constrained him (or tried to). And what can you say about a line like “they got me for possession of something that was gone — long gone.” Heh!
The drugs — speed and then cocaine — took their toll and doubtless took years off his life. All that bullshit added to the Outlaw mystique, but being a junkie (and beating it) wasn’t what made Waylon an Outlaw. The real Outlaw legacy is his commitment to the principle that everybody’s got a right to do what they do their own way. Be your own man; walk your own path and own both the triumphs and the defeats.
Waylon Jennings gave me a lot; he opened up a whole world of music to me and set the bar for integrity and sticking to your guns. And when I needed proof that you can lose the bad habits and keep your edge, Waylon was the kind of example I needed. I’m self-conscious about using the word, but he was a hero to me. Still is.
Waylon would have been 75 years old today. Happy Birthday, Hoss. Far as I’m concerned, you’re still around and always will be.